After his credibility as Manchester United captain was widely questioned following the 7-0 drubbing against Liverpool on Sunday, Bruno Fernandes showed a very different side of his game against Real Betis in the Europa League.
The midfielder once again led his side out at Old Trafford on Thursday and produced a scintillating performance to inspire United to a 4-1 win in the round of 16, first -eg tie.
It was the perfect response to the weekend’s humiliation and United manager Erik ten Hag was impressed by Fernandes’ reaction.
“For Bruno, I think he was brilliant today,” Ten Hag told reporters after the game.
“He led the team from the first minute by his game. In possession, he made the rhythm of the game and he scored a goal so I am happy.”
Fernandes was singled out for widespread criticism after Liverpool handed United its worst league defeat since 1931.
Former United captain Gary Neville called the Portuguese playmaker a “disgrace” and “embarrassing at times” during his analysis as a pundit on Sky Sports.
At one point in Sunday’s game Fernandes failed to chase Liverpool midfielder Stefan Bajcetic after the 18-year-old sped away from the United captain
“However bad United were, you cannot just let someone run away from you and give up,” Ex-Blackburn Rovers striker Chris Sutton told the BBC earlier this week. “That’s what the captain of Manchester United did and that’s a bad look.
Sutton also told the BBC that Fernandes “should never put on the armband again for Manchester United.”
Ten Hag, though, stood by his man and once again gave him the armband with club captain Harry Maguire on the bench.
His faith was rewarded with Fernandes returning to the form that made him such a fan favorite when he first joined the club in 2020.
He also scored with a bullet head in the second half while fans inside Old Trafford sang his name throughout the match.
It was a welcome result for the club which has been left licking its wounds after the humiliation against its fiercest rivals at the weekend.
”It’s a step in the right direction. We have to build on this now to gain momentum,” Marcus Rashford, who opened the scoring on Thursday, told BT Sport after the game.
”We can’t put too much emphasis on Sunday because it is gone, we can’t change it. We have to look forward now to the next games.”
Betis’ Ayoze Perez had initially equalized after Rashford put United ahead – his 25th goal of the season – but the host turned on the afterburners in the second half.
Antony, Fernandes and Wout Weghorst all contributed goals to cap off the dominant performance which should make the return leg in Spain nothing more than a formality.
With United all but out of the league title race, it can now concentrate on the two cup competitions it remains in having already won the League Cup.
Ten Hag’s team will pay Betis in the second leg on March 16 before facing Fulham in the FA Cup quarterfinals three days later.
Arsenal salvage draw
Elsewhere, Premier League leaders Arsenal drew 2-2 against Sporting Lisbon in its Europa League round of 16, first leg match.
Defender William Saliba had put Arsenal ahead but the host fought back, taking the lead after goals from Goncalo Inacio and Paulinho either side of the break.
Mikel Arteta’s side responded well and salvaged a draw after Sporting’s Hidemasa Morita’s deflected a shot into his own goal.